My Sister’s Hands / My Son Confesses

My Sister’s Hands


I rest my forehead on nerves and muscle that

worked for years. I think this is dying: swollen


knuckles like rusted hinges closing her hands to fists

cold as the porcelain she once prized for paper weight


on her office desk. Then the surprise of one last grasp

of bone-deep fingers, fingernails still tobacco-stained.


Thickened calluses. One finger crippled to quarter moon,

and the index, childhood impaled, bearing jagged scars.


This lifeless hand I hold for one last kiss.


My Son Confesses

for Omar

Each night you lower

the bed rail behind the white wings


of curtains and crawl in beside him, defiant

of sheets that are blood-smudged,


spongy with sweat, sour with fluids.


Brushing away tendrils of tubes,

you trace the labyrinths of his body—


first with your fingertips and then

lips over tissue-thin skin.


He knows it is love that defies

as you, monitoring the vital signs—


offered groin, rising heat, race horse pulse—

ride his white-knuckled shudders


over the edge to a place beyond pain.

Madelyn Garner has been a public school administrator and instructor of English. Among her many educational achievements and honors, she is the recipient of the Colorado Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities for encouraging incorporation of the arts into school programs. Named a Leo Love Merit Scholar at the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference, she also was awarded an Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Annual Writing Retreat scholarship. In 2010, she won the Jackson Hole Writers Conference Poetry Prize. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Florida Review, Slant, Roanoke Review, Nimrod International Journal, WaterStone Review, PMS poemmemoirstory, and the anthology Beyond Forgetting, Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease. With co-editor Andrea L. Watson, she published Collecting Life: Poets on Objects Known and Imagined, which was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.

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